Knowledge is the raw material of innovation. When an opportunity is recognized, when the underlying challenge is understood, we leverage our knowledge and experience to synthesize the new concepts that are the core essence of our innovations. The knowledge we use in this process comes from a variety of sources, both internal to our community as well as external. Many companies are facing a serious challenge to developing their innovation edge. Some of the most valuable knowledge they have is inside the enterprise represented in inaccessible documents and undocumented worker knowhow. As we continue to make our way through the greatest generational turnover businesses have ever experienced, it begs the question “What initiatives are your organizations using to manage the outflow of corporate knowledge cause by generational turnover?”
This was the subject of our last Innovating To Win poll question, and you can see the results below and here. These results are interesting from a number of perspectives. Let’s look at a few aspects of the results and consider what this means for innovation.
From our results, it appears that there is no clearly dominant strategy for dealing with the innovation knowledge crisis that many companies perceive. No single option has crossed the 50% threshold of diffusion. This supports the notion that there is a lot of confusion in companies as to the scope of the problem and how to best address the issue. This lack of clarity represents a serious risk to companies. I recently talked with one company that acknowledged that there are losing 100 subject matter experts per month to retirement. This is not a small issue for any company.
Of the selections in the survey, access to external knowledge clearly was favored as a mechanism to enhance the corporate innovation intelligence. While in the general context of enriching the innovation intelligence ecosystem and improving your innovation capacity by redefining the box external knowledge access must be a vital part of the innovation knowledge strategy, it is not a substitute for leveraging your internal knowledge. People who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. This is a truism for innovation practitioners. External knowledge provides you with fresh perspectives and new thinking. But, your internal knowledge contains highly targeted concepts which capture both the foundational knowledge of the organization, but also the lessons learned so that you don’t keep reinventing the wheel or repeating the same costly mistakes.
This point is further highlighted by the relatively low score of traditional internal information dissemination techniques. Not one of experience harvesting, sharing lessons learned, and internal knowledge management scored over 30%. This is horrible testimony to the failures companies have experienced with traditional knowledge management initiatives. But if information access is so important to the innovation process, why have these traditional methods failed? In short, knowledge management has been a data centric, IT led initiative. As such, it is doomed to fail from the start. A different perspective is needed to successfully unlock the value of internal knowledge assets—a strategy that is user and purpose centric. The communities that make up the enterprise innovation constituencies must be mapped to their roles, innovation tasks, and relevant information assets in order to define the shape of the innovation intelligence infrastructure needed so support innovation. The innovation infrastructure must then be deployed in a way that knowledge enables every innovation worker and allows them to have knowledge seamlessly integrated into their every day innovation work. Removal of the barriers to access of tradition knowledge management is key to successful mobilizing corporate wisdom and converting the sea of data into actionable knowledge.
It is for this reason, that the lagging take up of next generation technology as represented by internal Web 2.0 collaboration and passive collaboration frameworks is disappointing. The future of innovation knowledge enablement is in connecting innovation workers based on what they know. When you can get the right people engaged without taking them out of the context of what they need to get done, you have succeeded in accelerating the time to value for the enterprise.
It looks like we all have a lot of work ahead of us if we are serious about getting ahead of the looming knowledge drain issue that is already upon us. We must do a better job of understanding where the information exists, capturing it, and then mobilizing it in an effective and timely manner. When I was young, my parents would tell me that knowledge is power. They were right. Knowledge is innovation power. Innovation power coupled with crisp execution is the secret sauce of business success.